SEATTLE — The Seattle Police Department (SPD) has a contingency plan in case of staffing shortages due to the department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Officers are required to show proof of vaccination or an exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate by Oct. 18, or risk losing their jobs. SPD set an earlier deadline of Oct. 5 for vaccine verification, at which point 354 sworn officers still had not submitted proof of vaccination.
By the next day, that number dropped to 292.
"Overnight we had 64 officers turn in their vaccine verification forms. Obviously, our hope is to get that number as low to zero as we can between now and October 18,” said Sgt. Randy Huserik, with Seattle Police.
There are concerns that response times could suffer due to staffing shortages depending on how many officers face losing their jobs after the Oct. 18 deadline. The department is prepared to activate a stage three mobilization plan on Oct. 13.
Under the plan, all on-duty sworn personnel, like detectives, education and training section employees and people within the department with patrol backgrounds will report to work in uniform and ready to respond to 911 calls if needed.
“It’s a matter of putting your uniform on and getting back in a patrol car and handling 911 calls again,” Huserik explained.
He said the plan is meant to make sure enough officers are available to respond to urgent calls.
“That’s what this contingency is in place for, so that we do have officers who are available to handle 911 calls, not knowing what our numbers are going to be on October 18th,” Huserik said. “Our first concern is those priority one calls, those crimes in progress and whatnot, and having the staffing levels available to respond to those high priority calls first."
The Seattle Police Officers Guild is meeting with Seattle’s Labor Relations Department this week to discuss options for officers who don’t want to get the vaccine but want to stay employed, like masking or COVID-19 testing, in order to prevent staffing shortages.
"Any loss of an officer right now would be detrimental to our city's current public safety crisis,” said Mike Solan, President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild.
“We would like the city to acknowledge the staffing crisis that we're in, and how detrimental it will be if we lose even 50 officers due to this mandate. There has to be some type of reasonable accommodation, as we've seen in other cities across this nation provide to their community,” he said. "Please look yourself in the mirror and ask are you doing the right thing? By removing people who are willing to continue to serve this community, during this pandemic?"
Solan claims the vaccine mandate is unfair to officers who have worked on the front lines of the pandemic for 18 months.
"The problem is they're using bully tactics to force their employees to get this and that's what's led to this disconnect,” Solan said. “Right now, more than ever, our community's begging for police officers to stop the rise in crime. And we need politicians who are willing to understand the public safety staffing crisis that they created. They're in charge, they can change this.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Office is confident the number of worn SPD employees without vaccine verification will continue to lower.
A spokesperson said they anticipate officers and employees will continue to submit their vaccine verification forms as the deadline draws closer.
“Over the last 24 hours, we’ve had hundreds more of employees submit their verification including 91 from SPD - so we will continue urging individuals to submit their verification,” a spokesperson said.
The Washington State Patrol is facing a similar dilemma, as nearly 100 state troopers and 61 civilian employees have failed to turn in proof of a COVID-19 vaccine verification.
KING 5 also reached out to the Seattle Fire Department for vaccination verification numbers and has not heard back.